Ladakh, an ethereal cold desert is also known by names like The
Last Shangrila, Little Tibet and Moonscape. Situated in the midst of multi-hued
mountains, Ladakh has a rugged landscape with its quaint combination of smooth
and odd-shaped hills. Ladakh lies between the Ladakh and Zanskar ranges
transversely while it is bounded by two of the world's greatest mountain
ranges, the Great Himalaya and the Karakoram. Snow -carved peaks, translucent
lakes and a mystic culture have earned Ladakh the name Hermit Kingdom.
In the state of Kashmir, Ladakh lies at the eastern corner bordering Tibet.
Getting to Ladakh
Ladakh remains a high-altitude desert with the Himalaya serving as a barrier
sheltering it from the Indian monsoon. We can still see some ruins of an
extensive lake system that once prevailed here. The winter snowfall is the main
source of water. The heavy snow received in winter at Drass, Zanskar and Suru Valleys
on the Himalaya's northern flank feeds the
Public buses are the cheapest way to travel within Ladakh. Taxis are comfortable but
costlier. For visiting the newly opened areas like Nubra, Dah-Hanu, Tsokar and Pangong Lakes, engaging the services of a
registered travel agency to make all the necessary arrangements is mandatory.
Drass: This small township which is 60
km west of Kargil on the road to Srinagar
is the second coldest inhabited place in the world. Temperature during winter
plummets to even - 40 degrees because of repeated snowfalls. The base of the
Zojila pass, which is the Himalayan gateway to Ladakh, is the starting point of
the Drass valley. For a 3-day trek to Suru valley crossing the sub-range that
separates the two valleys, Drass is a suitable base. On both sides of the 4500
mts high Umbala pass through which the trek passes, check out flower-sprinkled
meadows and picturesque upland villages. The holy cave
of Amarnath is in neighboring Kashmir. Trekkers can reach Amarnath in three days,
starting from Minamarg beneath Zo-jiLa and crossing over 5200 mts high pass.
Tourists who travel from Srinagar to Ladakh by road have to register themselves at the Tourist Registration Center at Drass.
The second-largest urban center of Ladakh, Kargil is the headquarters of Kargil district. Located at a height of 2704 mts, it is 204 kms from Srinagar on the western side and 234 kms from Leh on the east. Kargil used to be a transit center for commodities like silk,brocade, tea, carpets, and felts, poppy and ivory on the way to and from China, Tibet
and Kashmir. Kargil's location in the center of theHimalayan regionhas good potential for adventure
activities. It has become an important base for adventure tours in the Himalayan region. Travelers from Srinagar to Leh have to halt here for a night before proceeding.
Drass and Wakha are the two tributaries of the Suru River
which meet here. Fine apricots grown here make the town famous. In August, the
entire countryside glows in an orange hue due to the ripening fruit.
Adventure activities like trekking, mountaineering,river rafting and camping flourish in Kargil which serves as an ideal base for them. The chief attraction of Mulbek to which you can take a short excursion
from Kargil, has a 9 mt high rock sculpture which depicts the future Buddha.
The best among the interesting walks along the riverside is the one that leads
to Goma Kargil. Some of the most scenic parts of Kargil present magnificent
views of the mountain stream all along a 2-km winding road. Curios like brass
kettles, traveling hookahs, flint and tobacco pouches are sold in the bazaar.
Pashmina shawls, local carpets and other woolen handicrafts are available in
the showroom of Government Industries Centre near the river bank. A rare
delicacy of apricot jam and dry apricot are available in the bazaar.
Nun-Kun Massif in the Great Himalayan Range is accessible from the Kargil-Pudum road. Massif is the most attractive
climbing destinations because of its shortest possible approach to the base
camps. Nun (7,135 m) and Kun (7,077 m) are the two highest peaks among the six
peaks accessible from the Suru valley.
Stok-Khangri Massif, in the Zanskar Mountains is nearest to
Leh. This peak offers a stunning view of the central expanse of the Indus valley. Saser-I, Saser-II and Saser-III are some of
the prominent summits of higher altitudes ( above 7400 mts) which are
accessible to foreign climbers who get special permission from the Government
The ideal period for climbing is from June to September, since Ladakh is not affected by monsoon during this time. Obtaining permission from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation is mandatory for climbing
Treks in Ladakh: There are treks ranging from short day-long treks to visit remote
villages to long trans-mountain treks involving weeks of walking and camping in
the wilderness. Zanskar range which separates the Indus Valley
should be crossed over in most of the trekking routes. Some of the popular
treks are the Markha valley trek, Lamayuru trek and the Stok-Khangri trek.
Early June to mid-October is considered the traditional trekking season. May is
also suitable for localized treks. Late autumn trekking is suitable only on
some routes because turbulent streams along the track are common during summer.
The most exiting trek during winter to Zanskar valley needs elaborate
arrangements as it involves trekking along the frozen surface of the Zanskar River.
Festivals of Ladakh
Festivals are part of Ladakh's heritage. Some popular festivals take place in summer, but most of them are
celebrated in winter. Monks wear colorful silk garments and special facial
masks during the monastic festivals. Two very important festivals are Losar
(New Year) celebration and the Ladakh festival.
Celebrations of Losar Festival
begin two months ahead of Tibetan New Year, in the eleventh month of Tibetan calendar. Lasting for about a month, Gods, deities, ancestors and even animals are fed during the festival. To bring prosperity in the coming year people dot
their kitchens with the images of Ibex which they consider auspicious.
Ladakh Festival: Ladakh celebrates this festival from September 1
to 15 every year. Leh and its villages wear a festive look. Procession of
different cultural troupes from various parts of Leh takes place to mark the
occasion of the inauguration ceremony.
Sightseeing in Leh
Ecological center: Ecological center is good place of information
about trekking in the region. Besides, there are many small stores selling
ecological products; from apricot jam to locally handmade clothes. It exhibits
excellent videos on trekking and Ladhaki culture.
Moravian church: Moravian church depicts interesting snippets of
history about Ladakh. When Moravian mission brethren reached Ladakh in 19th
century from Bohemia, they were refused entry into China.
They finally settled in Ladakh.
Palace: Lhasa's Potala palace is grandeur personified; reminiscent with temple of the guardian
deities above it and an astounding view of the palace roof.
Shanti stupa: Shanti stupa offers a magnificent view of the valley.
It is located in the village of Changspa. One has to walk around 500 steps to lead there. It is one of the most famous religious spots of Ladakh.
Soma gompa: Soma gompa is one of the best illustrations of Ladakh's
finest monasteries. The headquarters of Ladakh Buddhist association is situated
here. This religious site shines quietly with numerous oil lamps.
Tibetan refugee handicraft center: Tibetan refugee handicraft
center is located in a village called Choglamsar. This center could be spotted on the way to Thiksay monastery or Shey palace. Wide range of hand-woven rags, mats used for furnishing tables and chairs, thick woolens and an odd
selection of trinkets can be found here.
Market place: Market place includes many handicraft shops and pavement stalls which sell turquoise stones, woolen,silver jewelry, Tibetan antiques, Buddhist ornaments and china silk.